My main computers are all tablet PCs. Not 'I do all my work from an iPad' tablets-- tablet PCs, essentially laptops without a keyboard. I have an old Macbook Air 3,1 I rarely boot up, but that's -it-. My 'primary' computer is currently the about-11-inch Cube Mix Plus, with a smaller, about-9-inch Asus M80TA as a 'sidearm' (for when I need to take notes outside, or pull a computer out of my pocket for any other reason). I have a few compelling reasons to be this way:
x86/x64 tablets are still niche, understandably-- they don't benefit from the years of touch-centric development Android and iOS have-- but what they lack in polish they recoup in sheer flexibility. "x86" or "x64" (32- and 64-bit versions of the same thing-- yeah, '86' here means '32'. it's confusing) means it has the same kind of CPU as a regular computer, so it can run the same programs without as obscene an effort as, say, ARM, or (more archaically) PowerPC. Unfortunately, marketing for them is typically vague and noncommittal, as the marketing teams-- maybe entire manufacturers, in some cases-- don't seem well-informed about what they're selling, or to whom. As a result it's hard to hunt down more specific info, if it's even available; the niche is a lot larger in Asia, so the dirt may not even be online in English.
So, I'm writing down what I know, what I've figured out, and the general gist of what I tell people who ask me about my computer(s) regardless, so I don't have to repeat myself so much (or fear omission of information getting me in trouble, or just annoying me). I am also keeping notes for myself, eg. how to fix Bluetooth so I don't have to go through that again in 6 months. This is the sort of thing I would've liked to have available as reference for 'what to expect' when I started, so in a way, this is largely a selfish effort. Caveats:
Also, it's really scary to me how fast this info disappears from the internet. I had to dig a lot just to find the model of an old computer I had. And it was a really unique one! It got completely crowded out by 'current' laptop info, and there are a lot of gems buried the same way -- eg. the Toshiba Satellite. Try any combo of 'toshiba wacom', 'toshiba wacom 2000', 'toshiba wacom laptop', etc. you'd never hear about it. The 'long tail' was a laughable lie.
Keep an eye on the Asian market, especially China. Especially Shenzhen. The closer to the manufacturer you go, the less mark-up you're dealing with... to say nothing of the "microsoft tax" (to think people bitch about the Apple Tax but give MS a free pass...!). Also, as implied above - look at older models. You may have to dig to find this information, even through deadtree. But if you need something specific, and like me aren't looking for 'performance' (how little it's really mattered in the past 10 years...), you will find your mark there. Just be prepared to lurk eBay for a bit.
Before you go on... a warning. If you choose to dive deeper into this, you are dooming yourself to a lifetime of helplessly poking at non-digitizer screens. This was a nontrivial proportion of why I had to stop using my macbook-- I couldn't stand how often I had to 'break flow' once I'd gotten used to fluidly switching between mouse and touch. Also, any smudge-wary friends will hate you.
I don't like Microsoft Surface - any of them. This might seem weird, since I will speak praises of 'windows 10 tablets' otherwise, and people sometimes assume I'm talking about the surface because it's the only one they've heard about. This is indeed part of why I don't like the Surface-- among other things its marketing and shitty quality is sabotaging its own market. Let's get my gripes all on the table, then you can decide for yourself, as a lot of them have to do with information being obscured or downplayed from 'consumer' view:
The digitizer is what makes your touchscreen, your wacom pen, etc. work. A 'digitizer' is a term for any electronic chip, board, etc. that turns touches on something (usually a flat plane, and usually part of the screen) into input for the operating system (it 'digitizes' the analog input, in other words). There are a lot of ways to do this. One basic way is by physically squishing two wafers together to make an electric circuit (think ATMs, or nintendo DS). Another way is to use a magnet (Wacom uses this). Your phone (or iPad) probably uses a capacitive digitizer, which uses your conductive finger-meat to complete a circuit. There is no 'perfect' digitizer, each technology has its pros and cons.
Wacom, as of 2018, sort of has a monopoly on EMR ('ElectroMagnetic Resonance') digitizers; they've extended their patents by claiming many small changes to the technology as entirely new designs and they hire a law team that smaller competitors can't really dance with. They're patent trolls, in short. Anyone who wants a precise digitizer that doesn't require a battery-powered pen has to parlay with them. Fortunately, the lack of competition hasn't made them too terribly lazy; they still make pretty good digitizers. EMR digitizers need a special kind of pen, but they don't use a battery. Both my tablets have Wacom digitizers, which I hunted down for their batterilessness, light weight, and low cost (an S-pen is like 5 bucks, and even Wacom's branded modern pens aren't much more, if you know what you're looking for) (S-pens are the pens Samsung mass-produced for their Galaxy line of hardware).
The most common pen digitizer tech after EMR is AES (Active ElectroStatic [Solution], depending on who you ask), which requires an electric emission from the pen and and thus requires the pen to have an onboard battery, usually in an inconvenient size (eg. AAAA), and adding weight. They're pretty decent; the worst issue I've heard of is the pressure data 'lagging' a bit on stroke. This is an absolute dealbreaker for me, but you might not care. Battery life can vary widely depending on manufacturer, age, et cetera. N-Trig was the most prolific manufacturer of these I knew of; Microsoft bought them and now produces AES digitizers for their Surface tablets "in-house".
All digitizers require an extra 'layer' of width inside the display glass. If you have a DualTouch screen (wacom's marketing language for their pen-and-touch OEM digitizers), that's two extra layers. If you have minute control over the engineering and manufacture of the screen (ie. be Wacom working on the Cintiq, and bake the digitizer directly into the LCD grid), you can minimize this, but there will always be some 'drift' between where you touch the screen and where the cursor actually shows up.
One of the major caveats of EMR is edge drift. Basically, imagine your digitizer as a grid of magnetic sensors, and the pen emitting an electromagnetic sphere from its tip at all times. The field is weaker the further from the pen it gets. The digitizer can detect where the field is weak and where it gets stronger to 'anchor' your cursor quite precisely to where the pen is. However, the closer you get to the edge of the 'grid', the less information the digitizer has-- part of the field emitted by the pen is 'out of bounds' and invisible to the digitizer, so it starts to do weird things. This can be mitigated by design (tablet peripherals are better at avoiding it) but it's a pain and most designers don't do it. Also, since speakers are just magnets, if you have any speakers directly behind or adjacent to the digitizer, they will cause a similar confusion and drift effect. At any rate, this isn't a huge problem, just make sure any tiny controls you need to tap aren't butted up against the edge of the screen, and do your work toward the middle. Plus, if you have touch available to you, you can just tap stuff at the edge with your finger, which won't drift at all.
There are a ton of other niche techs. For example, Bluetooth styli often have a capacitive 'tip' but transmit pressure data over Bluetooth. Apple Pencil does this, to my understanding. They need a battery, obviously (bluetooth is just a form of radio). With CRTs ('Cathode Ray Tube', big chunky old monitors from the 90s) you could use a 'light pen' that relied on the way a CRT updates (a beam moving back and forth far faster than you can see, but slow enough for a high speed light sensor to pick up); this doesn't work on anything else, and is understandably rare today. Since all my stuff uses modern Wacom EMR, assume I'm referring to that technology unless I state otherwise.
"Palm rejection" is entirely an in-software thing in every tablet I'm aware of; the only 'in hardware' solution for it I'm aware of is simply turning the touch digitizer off. At any rate, you -need- this. Make sure it's set to the correct hand side, and only use that side. If you want to do weird shit (ie. using a ruler as a guide on top of the tablet) you'll probably want to turn off touch entirely anyway.
If you absolutely can't get any kind of palm rejection working (ie. crappier Android painting apps), you may be able to improvise by wearing a fabric glove. Drawing gloves meant for protecting graphite from smudges will work, if you already have them, but any glove that isn't conductive for some weird reason is fine. You don't need the kind with special conductive tips (though they can be handy), just cut off a fingertip for touch stuff, or use your off hand.
I have a lot of bluetooth peripherals. The M80TA basically requires them due to its dearth of ports, and I prefer dealing with extra batteries over extra wires anyway. However, don't mistake this for a preference or advocacy of bluetooth, at all. I think it's a garbage protocol. Bloated, horribly overcomplicated, not even consistent (a gamble if any two BT devices will be compatible due to competing incompatible protocol versions), an easy attack vector, too expensive (especially when it's integrated into the device and can't even be fixed when it breaks), ridiculously finicky about voltage, nightmarish to troubleshoot due to its discovery technique, etc.
Windows 10 bluetooth in particular, on its own client-end, routinely breaks, in some pretty spectacular ways (eg. the Metro control panel for it sometimes disappears, gets literally 'stuck' on removing device, or just breaks, for no apparent reason, and can't be fixed without reinstalling the bluetooth driver). Here is a pile of my usual solutions if it spontaneously fails.
If you go this route, I STRONGLY recommend you get peripherals with a dual bluetooth/USB mode, for whenever your tablet's bluetooth decides to have a tantrum; simply having a USB plug isn't enough as it may only be used for charging, and doesn't necessarily imply it can function over USB. Troubleshooting Bluetooth with no keyboard is a great way to get a cramp. Do your research.
I haven't tested as many of these as I'd like due to my finances. But I can certainly talk at length about the ones I have.
(Images are scaled down, but can be viewed at full size if you want to confirm EXACTLY what they are-- I'm only using images of the exact item I have-- right click->view image)
Logitech UltraThin KB cover. Having a hard time finding exact model numbers on this, and Logitech's marketing isn't helping. Mine is red. It doesn't fit any of the tablets discussed here, only an iPad fits in the little stand groove-- I just happened to have it already. Cool: Keeps a pretty solid connection, usually doesn't have the 'key stick' issue a lot of BT KB's do unless the charge is too low. Great battery, goes for months under heavy use. Keys are tolerable (better than some other Logitech mistakes), given the situation (actual scissor switches, not squishiness like the Microsoft Type Cover or anything). Sucks: No esc key, or any way to remap (it's a "home" button, and just opens a browser.). No function keys either, even with the FN modifier. Bizarro ~ and ` location. Takes a long time (5 seconds or more) to wake up after it sleeps, and sleeps very quickly (haven't timed it but sometimes less than 60 seconds), during which time you can't type. Though the keys rarely stick, when they do it's *bad* - I've had to reboot to make it stop. Modifier keys, however, stick fairly often and I've had some pretty spectacular fuckups due to this. No USB mode. No low battery warning, at least not for 'low power' which makes win10's bluetooth disconnect anyway. It might have one for 'approaching no power' and I just have never hit it. No quick swapping; if you want to use it on more than one computer you have to re-pair it every time.
Also, this was a gift from Grawly. Thanks Grawly.
I eventually want to replace this with a mech. I was looking at the Anne Pro, but upon reflection I'd really prefer something larger, maybe even a full layout with numpad-- I use too much old weird stuff and the lack of distinguishable F-keys has been consistently inconvenient to me even when I was on OSX. I want to keep Bluetooth in the form of Bluetooth/USB wired modes if I can. But at this point... I do very little keyboarding outside the house, other than when I occasionally work in Blender at coffee shops. (I've gotten used to painting without an eyedropper available in a split-second, which I think is a good habit anyway.) It wouldn't be the end of the world if I couldn't get Bluetooth. Plus, a single mech keyboard is heavier than my entire computer, and too hard to carry-- I'll probably just keep around a flat membrane hotkey pad or something.
Don't even talk to me about the LoFree. That thing is carpal tunnel waiting to happen, especially that Enter and Shift key. Basically no options for keycaps either.
Logitech M535 (and siblings). This has actually been a great mouse. It doesn't have the sleep problem the keyboard has (comes awake almost instantly) and it lasts eons on a single AA battery. You will still probably want to get some rechargeable AAs though. Sucks: Also no USB mode.
I'm thinking about getting a Bluetooth earpiece, partly for phone calls, partly because voice (eg. for recording, or livestreaming) in general sucks without it as the microphone is so far away from my mouth and so close to my desk fan. Also, there are scientific adapters that convert bluetooth <-> USB in a generic way, which I would love to experiment with, as well as various solder-in kits for BT, but I don't quite have the materials to make the latter useful yet.
I don't especially love Logitech's hardware, by the way. It's just conveniently cheap.
CPU is everything on a tablet. CPU drain determines the majority of your battery life, as well as your temperature (and in turn the lifespan of your tablet), especially since few tablets have any kind of internal fan. CPU use translates almost directly into heat. A hot tablet means a CPU-pegged tablet, OR a charging tablet. If you aren't charging, and your tablet is hot, and you aren't doing something that would merit this (playing a game, running someone's Javacript abomination, etc.), this is usually bad. You should troubleshoot this immediately.
If you got your tablet with the intent of doing any 'heavy' work at all, you'll want to have or get a small desk fan as well. This is just a good idea no matter what kind of computer you have. Find out where your tablet 'hotspot' is (the CPU is usually on one side or the other, not the middle) and point at it. That said, never put ice directly on your computer; the thermal shock can damage components, to say nothing of the water condensation.
If you're new to computers, or new to paying attention to them, you may not know what 'heavy' work is, or you might find some things that seemed 'light' to you before are actually quite heavy (eg. old games obviously don't need all of your CPU as they ran fine on slow old computers but will usually happily gobble it up given the opportunity, toasting you). This is fine. Download SpeedFan and keep an eye on it. If it spikes up, open task manager (make sure any 'show all processes' toggles are ON) and see what' going on. You will learn quickly.
The rest of this has less to do with tablets and more to do with my experience reacclimating to Windows, albeit a lot of weird software selections I've made have to do with it being a Tablet. If you've been using Windows your whole life you probably already know all this; just look at the bit about GestureSign and skip the rest of this.
Both my tablets came with Windows 10 and I haven't had the time to change this; I'm not sure I would want to as I actually like some of its added functionality over 8/8.1. I can't comment on 7/8/8.1 tablet functionality due to this, other than some old experience using 7 with a 'wafer digitizer' tablet back in the aughts (Gigabyte M912). Sorry.
I keep a lot of miscellaneous utilities around, more than I needed to on OSX as Windows is missing a lot of quality-of-life stuff I took for granted. Some of them date as far back as Windows 95, as the wheel doesn't need to change much. If you are seduced by the flashiness of modern applications or the need to update simply for the sake of updating I don't have much advice for you.
I prefer to stay offline when I can, so some of these are only included for their convenience in that regard. As usual, ignore if you don't need it, all there if you ever decide you do (and now you're aware of it if that ever changes, or you meet someone different from you, anyway).
Yeah, Windows 10 is straight up a spyware bonanza. Unfortunately, tablet Linux is a crapshoot right now, so we're stuck with it. It's also one of the worst examples of a 'living' operating system I've seen; even the 'slow' updates are under-tested (how CAN you test for a market as wide as windows' with a 6-month development cycle?!? the situation inside of MS right now is ugly) and will break your shit, since Windows gives you very little latitude to improvise repairs like eg. a bleeding-edge Linux setup would. If you use your computer professionally and are anywhere near as bitchy as me, and know better than to run random EXEs or connect to FreeStarbuckzNetNoVirus, you materially do not have time for this.
(I use my M80TA offline most of the time because its wifi radio is a battery hog. Every time I connected it, say to my home network to transfer files, or any kind of wifi while out and about and wanting to fucking use my tablet and not update right now, it'd want to update, making the tablet essentially unusable as it downloaded, bitched, and rebooted repeatedly for the next 20 minutes. I got so fed up with this I went in and manually broke its DNS, but being unable to use the web on it at all became too inconvenient. Fortunately the unfuckery community has caught up since then.)
The 'action center', albeit I am irked by its un-customizability, is surprisingly useful-- rotation lock, wifi/bluetooth/airplane toggle, etc. all get a lot of use from me. The 'tablet PC center' can go fuck itself, though.
Windows 10's suite of default programs is shite. I would recommend uninstalling it all using unfuck scripts (other than the camera; I will explain how to reinstall this later). If you can get a hold of Windows 7 or XP ones, they're much nicer and still hold up quite nicely (eg. old calculator (especially for date conversion), old games, winhelp).
Windows 10's 'metro' on-screen-keyboard is ... a mess. Extremely difficult to access programmatically (if you want to use it with GestureSign you must have the taskbar visible and taskbar button on). Mine spontaneously broke and stopped letting me change keyboard types a few months ago. However, the 'desktop mode' on screen keyboard is still very serviceable (just search 'keyboard'), and if you're just chatting the split mode (on the Metro keyboard) is still decently useful. Microsoft also acquired Swype and seemingly all swype-alikes some years ago and has seemingly done nothing with this- at least not on their desktops. -_- This would be the best easily-learned touchscreen typing 'solution', I think, if I could just find an implementation of it.
Windows Scheduler. You need to know about this anyway, as a lot of annoying Windows automatic processes are weeded from here. Basically the Windows equivalent of Cron, but with a much better interface IMO. If you need to schedule something to happen at a certain time and account correctly for stuff like sleep mode this is your tool.
Device Manager - like scheduler, this is less of a utility and more of a basic Windows functionality. However, you will likely want to make a shortcut to this (right click somewhere, 'make new shortcut', make it to 'devmgmt.msc', put it in your start menu folder and then pin it) and put it somewhere you can get to without scrolling (your desktop, or the front/top of your start menu). Why? Because when one of your digitizers breaks, or your Bluetooth, it's the first place you're going to need to go!'
I actually like Microsoft Office ... some of it. I have sort of a thing for Frontpage, obviously. I also like OneNote. The ribbon is cool. HOWEVER, I won't touch the current (2013, 2016, etc.) office with a 10 foot pole. The deal breaker? Trying to access my grocery list in OneNote, and being demandedto login, to see information that was already on my computer... when I was, you know, in a grocery store. No internet. Nope. Fuck that "always online" noise.
I actually reverted to using my painting program to take these kinds of notes, until I got a working version of OneNote 2010, which seems to be the last Office version free of this kind of horseshit yet modern enough to more or less play nice with rapid switching between tablet/drawing and 'normal' keyboard use. I used to be a superfan of Onenote back in 2007-2010, but couldn't keep using it on OSX-- the port was just too cruddy. I even got desperate enough to WINE ON2007 for a bit, but it was too distant from the rest of my system. Being able to use it again is a bit of a relief.
Excel, and PowerPoint, are also pretty damn decent 'glue' applications, I must admit.
I won't link it, since it's a crack, but, well, I'm poor and I don't really like giving my money to ... nearly anyone, in fact. If you are like me, you probably want KMSpico. It can be hard to find a non-sketchy download of it-- do your best and keep MalwareBytes and your other filters of choice on hand (to run AFTER you've done your work-- no sense letting it nuke it before you can even install). I've been running it for a while without issue.
If you are in an environment where 'modern' office is basically unavoidable, this all probably sounds either crazy or relieving to you. I should mention - as long as you do it in the right order, you can usually get Windows happy having multiple versions of Office on the same system...
OneNote (and in turn, the screen digitizer itself -- you could just as well use Paint) is more than serviceable enough to take notes by hand on my tablets, especially the larger Cube, by the way. I took the notes for this page all by handwriting. Beware that it can get a bit persnickety with a *lot* of drawing marks on the page - it insists on saving them as vectors, the rendering of which starts to lag after a while. I'd turn off pressure sensitivity, as if you need it for your notes you must be doing something ... more interesting than me. Also, try to avoid having a lot of scaled images on the page -- when you paste them in, 'restore to original size' and re-screenshot/re-scale them down to a smaller size if needed. OneNote doesn't cache scaled images, so every time you open/scroll/render a page with scaled images on it it has to scale the image *again* with every 'frame' - twice if you're at any zoom level besides 100%. This can get really stupid in terms of CPU use, really fast, even just having an image-heavy page open in the background (as it doesn't seem to pause rendering).
I love Cygwin. Cygwin is sort of like WINE, in that it's not unix, or a unix kernel or VM, but a sort of unix 'translator' that converts Windows behaviors into a shape that Unix code can recognize; you can run Windows EXEs (command line ones anyway) from Cygwin just fine, and pipe the output. [Explain this better, maybe.] Cygwin fans are somewhat notorious for being either delusional or insane, and either way completely impervious to peer pressure (if you haven't noticed, Unix people and Windows people barely get along, and look down their nose at each other most of the time). In my case all are correct. Anyway, like GestureSign, it is a 'glue' utility that patches other stuff in my system together when needed, plus lets me dive into a Unix-like system when it's comfortable.
Before you ask: No, I think the 'linux subsystem' is a pandering piece of shit, and I won't touch it. Microsoft is obviously trying to muscle in on the Linux server market. I'm not going to fall for that. If I'm going to use Linux i actually want it to be Linux, not some side project MS is going to drop support for in a year. I have similar opinions about Ubuntu, for the record. Also, another before-you-ask: No, I'm not interested in using a VM. I want something I can actually integrate into my workflow, not something that sits in a bubble out of it with a fragile virtual disk and tenuous access to anything, and sits on a chunk of my RAM (which I have little to spare) the whole time. That's dumb to me. And yes, I have a VPS. I use it when it's needed, for the things it's suited for, but I don't like relying on it, because I don't like the concept of being online 24/7 or professionally relying on something I can't find inside my house.
The main things I use cygwin for are:
Honestly, all this info should probably go on my software page. However, I am getting to the most important and most tablet-relevant part...
Rsync. Windows shares are shit, and completely paroxyze after a few sleep/wake events. If you're working on a project across multiple computers (eg. one computer is a painter's canvas for textures, and the other is previewing the texture), rsync is the glue. Yes, you can do this with dropbox, no, I think that's completely retarded-- offline, remember? Rsync alone has saved my ass in a lot of weird edge cases. The bash-i-ness of this is relevant because it's practically designed to be automated, and you usually don't have a keyboard handy to hit 'refresh' or 'sync' or whatever on.